Program eyes improved reading

Meanwhile, Omak opts for online Lexia reading help

— The Brewster Elementary School kicked off another year Oct. 1 with the volunteer-based Help One Student to Succeed reading program.

The program has been around since the late 1990s, Principal Lynnette Blackburn said. Trained community volunteers come in during the school day to work one-on-one with students.

There have been as many as 80 mentors, she said.

About 40 children are participating so far this year.

“The research behind that is the one-on-one and the relationship that’s built between the two is good for our community members, our volunteers and our students,” she said. “We have seen some great success over the years, and our students are really excited to see our mentors come in.”

Teachers recommend students for HOSTS. The school’s federal programs director, Dianne Johnson, said students behind on reading standards for their grade level are selected when teachers think they would benefit from individual attention.

These students are not the furthest behind – Johnson said the school has different methods for students who need the most help.

Students in the HOSTS program can typically make at least one year’s worth of growth in their reading skills if they keep up their attendance, Johnson said.

“We have come into contact with research that says that even if you just spent three minutes with a kid, you can still have a positive impact on that kid’s academic growth,” she said.

To start, staff members use a software program to “fill prescriptions” for each student, Blackburn said.

“We test the students, we find out exactly where they are and what their needs are,” she said. “The skills they’re lacking are put into a computer, and the prescription gives us information and the books that we can use to work with those students.”

Learning is split into a few different parts: Vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency, Johnson said. The students are tested periodically to ensure they’re making progress.

“It’s a good program,” Blackburn said. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had really good people running the program.”

Students often get attached to their mentors, she said, and the younger ones sometimes show their appreciation with handmade gifts.

“I think the community members really like it, because they keep coming back,” she said.

“It does have a good return, and it is our touch with the community,” Johnson said. “They get to claim part of that, they own it. ‘I helped that kid.’ When graduation comes around, there’s real connections with kids and adults that happened. They remember. Kids remember those things.”

Johnson said that because the school already owns the software, the only cost to the district is the salary of the HOSTS coordinator. It is paid through Title I funds.

The new coordinator is Marcy Boesel, who said the time commitment asked of mentors is 45 minutes per week.

“It’s going well, but we are definitely in need of more mentors,” she said. “If we could get 20 more mentors this year, that would be fantastic.”

The students come in every day, Tuesday through Friday, and Boesel tries to make sure they stay matched up with the same mentors to solidify their relationship.

“The looks I see on the kids’ faces when they come in the room validates to me how important that connection is to them,” Boesel said.

Until this year, East Omak Elementary also ran HOSTS, but has taken a more high-tech route with the Lexia Reading Core5 program. Students can access it on their computers at home, at school or on one of the school’s 290 Apple iPads, according to Superintendent Erik Swanson.

Lexia’s program is billed on its website as an independent learning tool that provides “immediate corrective feedback” for the student as well as action plans for teachers to help each student and track his or her progress.

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